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Judge: Calif. must move inmates because of fungus

Posted: June 25, 2013 8:00 a.m.
Updated: June 25, 2013 8:00 a.m.
 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday ordered the state to move several thousand inmates out of two California prisons because they are at a high risk of contracting a potentially deadly airborne fungus.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson instructed corrections officials to transfer most black, Filipino and medically at-risk inmates because they are more vulnerable to health problems from valley fever. The fungal infection originates in the soil of the San Joaquin Valley, where Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons are located.

He gave the state 90 days to fully comply.

About 3,250 of the two prisons' 8,100 inmates fall into the categories covered by the judge's ruling. But Henderson said inmates among those groups who already have had the disease do not have to be moved.

He also altered the recommendation from the court-appointed official who oversees prison medical care to exclude inmates over age 55, although that category of inmates could be included at a later date.

It is not immediately clear how many of the inmates will actually have to be transferred based on the judge's revised criteria, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for federal receiver J. Clark Kelso, who made the recommendations to Henderson.

Hayhoe said it makes sense for the judge to exclude inmates who previously contracted the infection because they can't get the illness twice.

Henderson criticized Gov. Jerry Brown's administration for delaying significant response to the problem for years and for its recent proposal to delay action for several months until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control can complete health studies at the prisons.

Prison officials are moving about 600 vulnerable inmates by August, but "are unwilling to exclude other inmates whom they know are at an increased risk of severe disease, which may lead to death," the judge wrote. "Defendants have therefore clearly demonstrated their unwillingness to respond adequately to the health care needs of California's inmate population."

Henderson gave the state seven days to begin moving the inmates from the two prisons located about 10 miles apart and 175 miles southeast of San Francisco.

Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the state is reviewing Henderson's order.

The ruling is the latest legal setback for the Democratic governor, who is trying to persuade federal judges that the state has improved prison medical and mental health care enough to meet constitutional standards. A three-judge panel that includes Henderson last week gave the state until year's end to reduce the prison population by nearly 10,000 inmates as the best way to improve conditions.

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